Passing the Torch

Over the past few months, as I sat contemplating one of the biggest decisions of my life - whether to announce that my time as head of USGBC was sunsetting, and that in a year- and-a-half I would enter an exciting new chapter of life during which I would start tackling any number of the projects on my still-robust wish list - I remained torn right up to the very end.

But then one morning out of the blue, I received an email and in the process found myself blessed with a wonderful, almost magical and deeply cathartic moment of clarity.

It was in reading this particular email over coffee that the decision I had labored over for so long became -- for the first time ever - well, easy. The email was from a young man named Devin Rosen, whose words - and I mean this literally - brought tears to my eyes.

Even though I had only met Devin once, I never forgot him because the young man blew me away. It was 2007. We were both on Capitol Hill to testify at a Green Schools Caucus; me as an activist getting paid to do what I do, him as a 10 year-old student deeply concerned about his generation's relationship to our planet, and how it may play out in the years ahead.

Or as Devin recalled it in his email:

"You sat right next to me as we testified before Congress at the Green Schools Caucus briefing. I was there representing my school, Great Seneca Creek Elementary. As a fifth grader, I wasn't really aware of the significance of the situation. I just thought I was talking to a bunch of people, like my dad, who wore fancy suits and ties. Now I recognize the experience as one of the huge accomplishments of my life so far."

And the tone in that passage was the exact brand of innocence, honesty and old-soul wisdom Devin put on display that day before Congress some eight years ago. That's why I never forgot him.

Devin went on to explain in his email he was seeking an internship at USGBC. Or as he prefaced it, as apparently only he can:

"Once the briefing finished, you came up to me, firmly shook my hand, gave me your business card, which I still have, and bestowed upon me a pen in a nice case with the USGBC emblem on the front (I actually used that exact pen on my AP exams this year. It still works well). You told me to give you a call once I graduated. Well, now as an 18-year-old high school graduate with big, bright, solar-powered dreams for the future, I figured I would contact you and say hello."

As I read the above passage, suddenly all the tumblers fell into place. I saw clearly for the very first time that I could, indeed, step aside and let go of the reins of the USGBC. And I could do so with a clear conscience, because not only would the organization we conceived and nurtured so many years ago be in good hands now, it would be in even better hands in the not-too-distant future. I saw that there are generations of environmental leaders still to come who will march forward relentlessly like columns upon columns of soldiers with right and goodness on their side.

Let me cue you in on a little secret. Even though the word sits in our title, all bare, bold and unapologetic, USGBC has never really, truly been about buildings. Not, in fact, by a long shot. It's been about those who inhabit those buildings, and those who design, build and use them.

In other words, It's been all about people. Or, to put even a finer point on it, USGBC has been about the children - yours, mine and theirs - and the future they will write.

It was in reading Devin's email that I was suddenly reminded of that, just as I was reminded of something that perhaps I'd always known but never fully grasped: At some point my generation - men and women of great depth, character, wisdom and insight who have carried the torch of environmental responsibility and preached the gospel of oneness with nature throughout the most important era in our movement's history - will someday have to pass that torch on.

Not because we've lost our passion, or because we've drifted from our mission. But because, just like any discipline, future generations will go to places, imagine things and scale mountains we never even knew existed.

My friends, I cannot tell you how much playing even a small part in what USGBC has accomplished over the years has meant to me. Nor can I begin to explain the love I have in my heart for the many friends I've made over the years or the emotions that welled up inside me as many of them reached out to wish me well.

But please understand - I'm not going away. I simply have other things I want to do, and an incredible woman with whom I want to spend the rest of my days doing them.

Besides, as I think of the generation that's poised to take USGBC to the next level, I'm beginning to fully comprehend something aging rock 'n roller Pete Townsend told us years ago:

The kids are alright.